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b. 1965, China

Zhang Huan Biography

Zhang Huan is widely considered to be one of the most vital and influential contemporary artists working today. He was born in 1965 in a small town called Anyang in Henan Province just prior to the Cultural Revolution. At age fourteen, he started his artistic training in the so-called Su-style or Soviet style and traveled by bus each day for his lessons. Zhang enrolled in undergraduate studies at the Art Department, Henan University, Kaifeng to concentrate on Chinese ink painting, drawing, oil painting and art history in 1984. Upon completion in 1988, Zhang was an instructor of art and Western art history at Zhengzhou College of Education for three years. He studied oil painting at the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing from 1991 to 1993, and it was during this period that he first started experimenting with performance art.

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Zhang Huan's first public performance was called Angel, which he staged on the front steps of the National Art Museum of China (China Art Gallery) as part of a group exhibition for students at the Central Academy. Angel was openly critical of the Chinese government's controversial “one child” policy and it resulted in the entire exhibition being closed by the museum’s director.

During this same period, a group of young Chinese artists, including Zhang Huan, established the Beijing East Village. It was in this community that Zhang developed his early performance practices and many of the works that would soon bring him international attention. Conceived as both existential explorations and social commentary, performances like 12 Square Meters, in which the artist sat for an hour, covered in honey and fish oil, in a fly infested public latrine or To Add One Meter to an Anonymous Mountain, where nine people lay on top of one another to raise the summit by a meter. These performances and many others came to be known by their photographic documentation, which are now considered the artist’s first iconic works.

A year later, Zhang was invited to perform outside China for the first time, at the China Art Festival in Munich. Ultimately the festival was canceled because of conflicts that arose between China and Germany, but Zhang Huan still managed to travel to Munich, and subsequently Paris, where he saw masterpieces by Millet, van Gogh and Courbet in person for the first time.

In the fall of 1998, Zhang Huan was included in Inside Out: New Chinese Art organized by Asia Society and P.S.1Contemporary Art Center. It was during this exhibition that he relocated to New York City. Over the course of the next eight years, Zhang Huan created 13 performances and exhibited in 5 solo exhibitions and more than 60 group shows throughout The United States. The artist moved back to China in 2006, settling in the southern Min Hang district of Shanghai, where he opened Zhang Huan studio and returned to a more traditional object-based practice. Today, Zhang Huan employs approximately 100 studio assistants to help him realize his prolific and, often monumental, works.

Zhang Huan’s work is part of nearly 40 public collections worldwide, including the Bard College, Center for Curatorial Studies, Annandale-on-Hudson, New York; Center of Contemporary Art, Malaga, Spain; Centre national d’art et de culture Georges Pompidou, Paris; Centro Galego de Arte Contemporanea, Santiago de Compostela, Spain; Denver Art Museum, Colorado; The Hara Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo; The Israel Museum, Jerusalem; Museum of Contemporary Art, Barcelona; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; New Orleans Museum of Art, Louisiana; Norton Museum of Art, West Palm Beach, Florida; Philadelphia Museum of Art; S.M.A.K., The Municipal Museum of Contemporary Art Gent, Belgium; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; and Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Connecticut, among others.

Zhang Huan Featured Artworks

Northward by Zhang Huan contemporary artwork
Zhang HuanNorthward, 2020Incense ash on linen
90 x 100 cm
Asia Art Archive
Pilot by Zhang Huan contemporary artwork
Zhang HuanPilot, 2008Ash on linen
250 x 200 cm
Pace Gallery
Sean No. 12 by Zhang Huan contemporary artwork
Zhang HuanSean No. 12, 2012Ash on linen
150.2 x 280 cm
Pace Gallery
Dr. Bai Qiuen by Zhang Huan contemporary artwork
Zhang HuanDr. Bai Qiuen, 2007Ash on linen
286 x 360 cm
Gary Tatintsian Gallery Contact Gallery

Zhang Huan Recent Exhibitions

Contemporary art exhibition, Group Exhibition, Metamorphoses at Pearl Lam Galleries, Shanghai
27 July–15 October 2020 Group Exhibition Metamorphoses Pearl Lam GalleriesShanghai

Zhang Huan Represented By

Asia Art Center contemporary art gallery in Taipei, Taiwan Asia Art Center Taipei, Beijing, Shanghai
Pace Gallery contemporary art gallery in New York, USA Pace Gallery New York, London, Geneva, Palo Alto, Hong Kong, Seoul, Beijing
Pearl Lam Galleries contemporary art gallery in Pedder Street, Hong Kong Pearl Lam Galleries Singapore, Hong Kong, Shanghai

Zhang Huan In Ocula Magazine

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Afterimage: Dangdai Yishu at Lisson Gallery, London Ocula Insight Afterimage: Dangdai Yishu at Lisson Gallery, London By Sam Gaskin, London

An afterimage is a false visual burned onto the eyes even after its source is no longer being viewed. Victor Wang, the curator of Afterimage: Dangdai Yishu (3 July–7 September 2019) at Lisson Gallery, London, borrows the term to describe one of the key accomplishments of contemporary art: the accommodation of work that is post-figurative, or...

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China’s Post-Intranet Artists Get Personal Ocula Feature China’s Post-Intranet Artists Get Personal By Sam Gaskin, Auckland

China's post-80s artists are no longer all that 'young', nor do they much need that moniker. With the oldest of that generation fast approaching 40, to call them young would be misleading given how rapidly many of them rose to prominence during the tail-end of China's foreign collector-powered art boom and subsequent influx of domestic collectors....

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Dr Uli Sigg Ocula Conversation Dr Uli Sigg By Diana d'Arenberg, Hong Kong

I'm very much a fan of the public institution. I think only the public institution can provide the long-term guarantee that it will continue to exist and it will be 'the' public memory.

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Zhang Huan Ocula Conversation Zhang Huan By Sam Gaskin, Shanghai

Few people were all that rich when China finally officially opened its borders in 1978, but Zhang Huan was poorer than most. He was born in Anyang, Henan Province, in 1965, just before Mao initiated the decade-long calamity of the Cultural Revolution. Living hardscrabble with his grandparents in the remote countryside, his early childhood...

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Zhang Huan In Related Press

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Khvay Samnang on Zhang Huan Related Press Khvay Samnang on Zhang Huan 6 October 2017, ArtAsiaPacific*

My first encounter with Zhang Huan's work occurred in Cambodia in 2008 thanks to independent curator Zoe Butt. I was with my artist collective, Stiev Selapak / Art Rebels, and she introduced Zhang's and other Chinese artists' work to us. Back then, my English language skills were not advanced enough for me to do more research on him, but I was...

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From Innovation to Provocation, China’s Artists on a Global Path Related Press From Innovation to Provocation, China’s Artists on a Global Path 6 October 2017, The New York Times

Strange to say, although China has 1.4 billion people, it has only one artist, Ai Weiwei. Or so you'd think if you followed the Western news media. Art and China after 1989: Theater of the World at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum wants to correct that impression. With work by some 70 Chinese-born artists and collectives filling most of the...

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'Where can the dust alight' at Pace, Hong Kong Related Press 'Where can the dust alight' at Pace, Hong Kong

A group exhibition at Pace Hong Kong borrows its name from a 7th century stanza by the Buddhist monk Hui-neng, which embodies the Buddhist core philosophy of constant reflection, but also the notion of life without meaning, within a few profound words: “There is no Bodhi tree/Nor stand of a mirror bright/Since all is void/Where can the dust...

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M+ Sigg Collection Exhibition Related Press M+ Sigg Collection Exhibition 24 February 2016, WestKowloon

Comprising more than eighty works by fifty artists – including Ai Weiwei, Fang Lijun, Geng Jianyi, Huang Yong Ping, Zhang Peili, and Zhang Xiaogang – this is the first-ever chronological exhibition about the emergence of Chinese contemporary art. It shows both the development of Chinese contemporary art and a glimpse of the collection...

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